Bit by bit, word has leaked out from congressional investigators' interviews with the Justice Department officials involved in the firings. And one by one, they've denied responsibility for putting certain U.S. attorneys' names on the list.
Let's go down the list. Michael Battle, the former Director of the Executive Office of United States Attorneys, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, Kyle Sampson, and William E. Moschella, the principal associate deputy attorney general, all have told Congress
that they did not put any names on the list. And today The Washington Post reports
that David Margolis, the senior career official at the department, claims responsibility for adding a single name: Kevin Ryan. Ryan, you might remember
, is the only U.S. attorney who everyone agrees had actual performance issues. Margolis also says he fingered U.S. Attorney from western Michigan Margaret Chiara as having managerial issues in her office, but it's unclear if he's responsible for her name being on the list.
For all six of the U.S. attorneys at the center of the controversy -- Carol Lam, Daniel Bogden, Bud Cummins, John McKay, Paul Charlton, and David Iglesias -- no one has taken responsibility.
Only three Justice Department officials who were supposedly consulted to construct the firing list remain unaccounted for. Two of them -- Michael Elston, Paul McNulty's chief of staff, and acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, the absentee
U.S. Attorney for Montana -- have already been interviewed by congressional investigators. The strong impression given by public comments by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) since those interviews is that neither have taken responsibility for adding any names.*Update
: House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) was even more explicit in his opening statement yesterday: "We have interviewed numerous senior officials in the Department, and all deny making the actual decision to place these names on the list."
The third and sole remaining Justice Department offiical is Monica Goodling, the liaison to the White House. She, of course, is yet to be interviewed.
In his testimony to Congress, Kyle Sampson claimed that there had been "a consensus-based process based on input from Justice Department officials who were in the best position to develop informed opinions about U.S. attorney performance." But none of the officials Sampson has named are willing to take credit for targetting certain U.S. attorneys. So who's left? Right.
With that in mind, this meeting becomes all the more sinister:
Deputy chief of staff Karl Rove participated in a hastily called meeting at the White House two months ago. The subject: The firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. The purpose: to coach a top Justice Department official heading to Capitol Hill to testify on the prosecutorial purge on what he should say....
According to McNultyâs account, Rove came late to the meeting and left early. But while he was there he spoke up and echoed a point that was made by the other White House aides: The Justice Department needed to provide specific reasons why it terminated the eight prosecutors in order to rebut Democratic charges that the firings were politically motivated. The point Rove and other White House officials made is âyou all need to explain what you did and why you did it,â McNulty told the investigators.
So here you have White House officials telling Justice Department officials to explain to Congress why they did what they did, when no one at the DoJ seems to have a good idea of why the firings had occurred. As we all know now, they didn't do a very good job of thinking up explanations.